Genre: Alternate-World Fantasy
Thomas and Sarentha flee everything they know when Thomas murders a co-worker. In the dead of night, a cloaked noble approaches and offers them a sum of coins they cannot refuse. His sole request is for the pair to retrieve an amethyst
from a tomb.
From there, they are introduced to Eliza, a spirited and head-strong noblewoman who proves her competence with her skills in diplomacy and combat. Together with Thomas’ strength and steadfastness, and Sarentha’s drive and inquisitiveness, the trio makes an odd but capable group.
Their adventures take them across the lands of the Tamorran Empire to witness sights they never imagined. With grand plans in motion, everything hinges on Thomas, Sarentha, and Eliza’s success. Artifacts need to be crafted, alliances need to be formed, and above all, secrets need to be kept. Not even their own allies know every facet of the noble’s quest, and he plays a dangerous game by creating plots within plots.
Can the disparate trio hold together throughout their trials? What secret does the noble know that causes him to go to such
extraordinary lengths to succeed? Dark shadows blanket the Tamorran Empire, and illuminating those secrets will bring a terrifying truth.
I’m going to give this alternate-world fantasy story four stars mostly for effort and potential. Otherwise, it would rate three. I found the writing and characters so-so, but the plot was original and interesting and involved a mystery I didn’t see through until it was revealed, despite the clues. Almost from the beginning, the reader will notice that the different races are much-too-conveniently organized, with each having its own segregated town, mingling only in the national capital. That comes across at first as poor world-building (especially combined with another thing that I’ll go into in a moment), but it turns out that it’s an important plot element and there’s a very logical (and insidious) reason for it.
Now, the reason it comes across at first as poor world-building rather than the mysterious element that it actually is, is because the world-building in A Noble’s Quest, unlike the plot, is in fact rather unimaginative. The society consists of five sentient races, and the non-human ones are actually called Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, and Halflings. Worse, the characteristics of each race sound like a combination of Dungeons & Dragons and World of Warcraft. Elves are slim, magical, long-lived, and reside in the woods; Dwarves have Scottish accents, drink heroically, live underground in the mountains, and make things. Gnomes are tinkerers and inventors. Halflings are greedy and often regarded as thieves, or the merchant equivalent. Although not part of the society, there are Orcs and Goblins in the story, too, and they’re just as predictable, right down to the hulking, green-skinned, and betusked appearance of the former.
Setting all that aside, and although the book held my interest, it could have been so much better. The main characters are outlined rather than developed. We learn little about their background, and aside from a few characteristics (Thomas is a mighty warrior who doesn’t like to kill people, Sarentha is a roguish fellow who wants to escape his dreary life) we know little about what motivates them. Seldom do their emotions erupt; rather, they ooze. I can see so many ways in which that could be improved: a sub-plot of unrequited desire between Sarentha or Thomas or both, and their lovely, competent half-Elf companion, Eliza; a situation in which their lives are seriously imperiled and we feel it; strong temptation on Sarentha’s part to betray the quest for gold; More situations in which Thomas must deal with his innate ferocity that conflicts with his desire for peace. None of that happens, or if it does, it’s depicted in watercolor and pencil drawing rather than vivid oil tints.
This is Ryan Toxopeus’ first novel, unless I’m mistaken, and the originality and creativity of the plot in A Noble’s Quest shows that he has plenty of potential. Unfortunately, I can’t reveal too much about that plot without spoiling it; suffice to say that the Empire is not what it appears to be, and the reality is monstrous enough to require desperate action to remedy — action taken by people who can’t even be allowed to know why they’re doing it, lest the fact that they know should get back to those in authority. The main thing the book needs is more time spent rewriting, with a view to developing the characters more deeply into people the reader will care about more. (The cookie-cutter world building trips a personal wire, and I admit that. It would be easily set aside if the characters and the writing were more compelling.)
A Noble’s Quest is available for $3.99 from the Amazon Kindle Store, and will shortly be available in print as well.